East Lake is cruising into the state final four.
Coach Terry Small is still on the sideline, barking instructions, making a few moves here and there. But the Eagles have been so steady, so consistent, that his lineup has been etched into stone since Day One.
A lack of lineup tinkering may be a sign that the Eagles are about as perfect as they can be.
“You usually change it when you find something that’s not working,” said Small, and it’s hard to find anything not working on the East Lake volleyball team, winner of nine straight and 27 of its past 28 matches.
Friday at noon at the Lakeland Center, where the Eagles are returning for the first time since finishing as state runnerup in 2002, East Lake will take on Lakeland in the Class 5A state semifinals.
The Eagles (27-2) are coming off an emotional win over state power Venice before a packed house, a year after a shocking loss to Clearwater in the region semifinals.
“Last year left a sour taste in our mouths,” said middle hitter Lauran Eschenroeder, who leads the team with 306 kills. “We definitely wanted this more this year.”
Eschenroeder leads a balanced attack that includes Brianna McComeskey (231 kills), Brittnay Estes (201 kills) and Jackie Wegner (155 kills). All have at one time or another, in almost every match, had stretches where they have taken over.
Factor in setter Rachel Reed and defensive whiz and libero Brooke Burkett, and you have a team with few weaknesses and possibly the makings of a state championship team.
Clearwater was the last Pinellas County team to win a volleyball state title in 2000.
“We’ve been working so hard for this moment,” Estes said. “We can’t wait.”